Masters Thesis

Ronald Reagan and the foundation of mass incarceration in California

Conventional scholarship does not assign any responsibility for the creation of the prison-industry complex to Ronald Reagan. This thesis entails a critical examination of Reagan’s governorship to identify his contributions to the mass incarceration phenomenon in California. It examines the structure of Reagan’s executive branch and its working relationships with other parts of California’s governmental bureaucracy. It also examines four different analytical frameworks on the development of the mass incarceration phenomenon; such an examination entails a review of the cultural dynamics of the 1960s and 1970s, the conservative movement’s usage of the southern strategy and dog whistle politics, the rise of the “law and order” and “tough on crime” movements, and the penal shift from rehabilitation to punishment. Finally, it furthers argues that Reagan’s rhetoric and actions in office, regardless of the theoretical lens, set the stage for the mass incarceration phenomenon in California.